The Department for Communities has today launched a call for evidence to explore the establishment of a debt respite scheme in Northern Ireland.
The primary aim of the pre-consultation is to build on evidence already gathered and source further insight from the debt advice sector, creditors and individuals on the scale of problem debt locally.
Problem debt and the inability to keep up with regular bills and credit commitments is associated with a range of negative impacts on wider society, most notably poor mental health.
An estimated 175,679 adults in Northern Ireland are likely to need debt advice in 2022.
It is envisaged that any new scheme would incorporate provision for both a ‘Breathing Space’ and ‘Statutory Debt Repayment Plan’.
The Breathing Space initiative hopes to provide headspace for debtors by temporarily pausing creditor enforcement action, interest and charges. The scheme also aims to help debtors access professional debt advice - and access it sooner - helping them reach sustainable debt solutions.
The pre-consultation will run for seven weeks from December 14 to February 1 2023 with input sought from the debt advice sector, private and public sector creditors, voluntary sector and members of the public who wish to contribute.
To participate in the call for evidence, which will help shape the policy for any future debt respite scheme, go to Citizen Space
Notes to editors:
1. This consultation applies to Northern Ireland only.
2. This call for evidence is the first stage in an ongoing public engagement process. Legislation would be required to introduce a debt respite scheme here.
3. The Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 transferred responsibility for policy, funding and the commissioning of debt advice services to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from 1 January 2019.
4. HM Treasury allocations are made on the basis of the number of adults likely to need debt advice. For Northern Ireland this has been estimated to be 175,679 adults per annum for 2022 funding allocation. The need for debt advice is defined in terms of people being behind in at least one priority bill, facing early or late-stage creditor action and using credit for the essentials.
5. The Department for Communities has been funding the debt advice service through Advice NI since 2019 to date, helping around 14,267 people struggling with problem debt of approximately £139 million in that time.
6. Media enquiries to DFC Press Office via email
7. Follow the Department on Twitter @CommunitiesNI
8. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
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